6 Ways Professors Use OERs to Engage with Students

Updated: Nov 7


Discover how you can engage students with open educational resources.


As an instructor, you’re familiar with some of the pain points professors encounter each semester. Problems like poor student engagement and rigid course materials that end up going unused are common across almost every subject. Traditional textbooks can exacerbate these problems, and their high prices can pile up for students.


However, looking to open educational resources (OER) can help you find educational materials that are engaging and affordable. For example, with OERs, you can find resources that cover a topic up to the most recent study or discovery whereas a physical textbook may be lagging behind by several years.


In this guide, we’ll answer questions about how you can use OERs to engage your students:

You may assume OERs are difficult to use or hard to integrate into your course. While the quality of OERs can vary widely, there are likely dozens if not hundreds of OERs out there that would add value to your course. Let’s get started by digging into what these resources are.


What are some ways to make OERs more engaging?

Along with providing more up-to-date resources, OERs can be a great way to engage students by including things like interactive and multimedia elements. However, simply finding a relevant OER and adding it to your syllabus isn’t enough. Taking the time to discover engaging, authoritative OERs and seamlessly integrating them into your curriculum is key to cultivating higher student engagement levels.


Let’s explore some strategies you can use to make OERs more engaging for your students.


1. Work with an instructional design team.

For many instructors, switching over to OERs might conjure up negative feelings. There are some pain points associated with using these resources, including not knowing where to look, lacking an engaging delivery platform, and facing a limited selection of relevant OERs. However, there are resources you can use to combat these issues and incorporate valuable OERs into your course.


An instructional design team can do the heavy lifting for you by:

  • Sourcing high-quality, relevant resources. It can be hard to find and curate OERs that are truly reliable, trusted sources of information. While resources like OER Commons are full of resources in every subject, not all of them are created equally. Skyepack does the hard work of finding and vetting these resources for you, being sure to choose only the most trustworthy resources for your course.

  • Providing an engaging content delivery method. The default OER delivery method and your school’s learning management provide a cumbersome, dull experience for students. While traditional learning management systems are not designed to deliver textbook material to students, Skyepack’s platform makes your students’ learning experience more engaging by providing digital access to custom-curated materials like videos, activities, assessments, podcasts, case studies, and articles. Skyepack’s content delivery platform is built to host ancillary materials you’re already using like lecture videos, academic articles, and websites to provide you with useful insights and student monitoring.

  • Expanding the reach of OER. Many OERs are created for mass appeal to have the largest impact on course fit. This means professors will likely need to gather and assemble pieces from 20 to 30 different OERs to cover the core topics they need for their course. Skyepack enhances available OERs by personalizing them for your specific needs as an instructor as well as your course’s needs. By including only relevant and engaging content from these resources, you can engage your students and encourage them to read and reference these resources. Skyepack offers continual improvements and revisions to your OER-based resources to ensure students are getting the most out of their textbooks.

Integrating OERs into your course can be challenging, especially when finding the right ones in the first place requires so much time and effort. Working with Skyepack can help you source the resources that will add the most value to your course and engage students with an effective delivery platform.


2. Choose a variety of OER formats.

Traditional teaching methods don’t work for every learner. For some students, listening to lectures, completing reading assignments, or clicking through slides simply aren’t effective ways for them to learn. For example, visual learners likely won’t perform at their highest potential in a course that is solely taught through lectures and textbook readings.


Aim to select open educational resources with elements that will appeal to a variety of learning styles. Because OERs can come in a variety of formats, from PDF documents to video tutorials, there is bound to be an effective learning tool for each of your students. Since these resources are free and accessible, you can integrate as many of them into your curriculum as you need to engage all of your students at no additional cost.


3. Use OERs with interactive content.

One of the most popular (and effective) instructional design trends is interactive learning. Courses with interactive learning allow students to manipulate course elements and complete activities embedded directly into the material.


One of the most effective ways to engage students is to incorporate materials that feature these interactive elements into your course. These interactive elements might include knowledge checks, videos, quizzes, interactive infographics or diagrams, activities, and more. Choose OERs that include these elements to encourage students to actively pay attention and demonstrate their understanding of the material.


4. Revise or remix OERs.

One of the greatest benefits of OERs is that you can manipulate them how you see fit to best meet the needs of your students and course. Anyone is free to trim or adjust OERs in any way. As an instructor, you can edit the OER you feature in your course to include only the information your students need to know.


Use this flexibility to your advantage by adjusting OERs to naturally fit into your curriculum. You can do this by:

  • Revising the OER. In a more lengthy OER, it’s unlikely that you’ll find the entire resource relevant to your course. For example, an open-access biology textbook that is mostly irrelevant to your course might feature a great chapter on cellular respiration. In this case, you can take only the parts of the resource that apply to your course so students won’t have to wade through information they don’t need.

  • Remixing the OER. In addition to removing unnecessary content, you can also edit the content itself to fit your needs. Don’t be afraid to rearrange the content, add new information, and insert helpful media like images or diagrams into the OER. You know your course best, so feel free to modify these resources to convey information accurately and effectively.

Keep in mind that these processes can overlap with one another. For example, you might find that after revising a resource it still requires some rearranging to fit into your curriculum. You can even embed these resources into your existing materials like lecture presentations to supplement that information, making the possibilities of using OERs endless.


5. Provide digital learning opportunities.

With OERs like online courses or learning modules, you can provide in-depth digital learning opportunities for your students. These digital courses can hone in on a specific topic to help students dig deeper into one topic or teach them a skill. For example, you might find an open microcredential course that teaches students a skill like data analytics or even design your own OER tailored to your course.


Learn about the benefits of using self-guided digital learning through open educational resources.

Self-guided digital learning opportunities hold many benefits for your students, including:

  • Flexibility. With digital courses, students can log on to learn at any time or place. Not only do students have the ability to tune into the course when they have the time and focus to do so, but they can also take the course at their own pace. This way, students can spend more time on challenging content and move quickly through the content they find easy to navigate.

  • Increased engagement. Because these courses typically require user interaction, they tend to be more engaging than a traditional textbook. However, you can engage your students even more by incorporating gamification into your teaching strategy. For example, you can create a leaderboard that tracks your students’ progress in the course, designating a prize for those who complete it by a certain date.

  • Opportunities to manage their own learning. These courses give students the chance to practice important skills like time management that they will need down the road as they enter their careers. Self-guided courses also empower students to take ownership of their learning, motivating them to participate and engage with course materials on their own terms.

These learning opportunities are a great way for you to motivate students to engage more deeply with a topic or skill without devoting precious class time to it.


6. Ask for student input.

Ask for students to weigh in on what they want to learn. With OERs, there are affordable ways to create different paths for your curriculum to take. By contrast, with traditional textbooks, you may not have the flexibility to give students the chance to choose which content they are most interested in.


Students will engage most with content they are genuinely interested in. In addition to improving student engagement, asking for their input can:

  • Show that you as their instructor value their opinions and interests.

  • Ensure that they study something they are passionate about and, therefore, are more likely to invest their time and energy into learning.

  • Improve their performance in the class by focusing content, assignments, papers, and tests on material that feels authentic to them.

Communication between you and your students should be a two-way street. Show them that you value them whenever possible through implementing learning materials that take their interests, thoughts, and opinions into account. Because they are so affordable and flexible, OERs are a great way to do this.


What are the benefits of using open educational resources?

OERs come in all shapes, sizes, and formats. For example, you might be familiar with digital textbooks, one of the most common forms of OERs. However, OERs can also include lecture slides, question banks, interactive materials, simulations, cases, or open-access journals.

OERs can provide many benefits to both instructors and students. A few of these benefits include:

  • OERs are more affordable than traditional textbooks. It’s no secret that textbooks can be incredibly costly. In fact, the average price of physical textbooks is between $80 and $150, leading many students to neglect purchasing required course materials. OERs are totally free, meaning you can reduce the strain of rising textbook costs on your students.

  • They are more up-to-date than physical textbooks. Print textbooks are typically updated every three to four years, meaning that the textbooks you assigned just a few years ago might already be out of date. With digital OERs, you can see changes reflected much more regularly to ensure you aren’t teaching outdated information (or asking students to purchase brand new editions every three years).

  • Students will not have to wait through shipping delays to receive materials. With frequent supply-chain issues, shortages, and delays, it’s not uncommon for textbooks to get held up somewhere in the delivery process. With digital resources like OERs, your students get access to the resources they need immediately.

  • Students will receive day-one access. Students no longer have to head to the bookstore or contemplate purchasing their course resources because they will be accessible for free. This allows students to get up to speed much more quickly and removes the need for students to wait for financial aid or other scholarship funds before gaining access to their textbooks.

Additionally, OERs can provide much-needed opportunities for engagement to your students. With updated content and media, they can better align with students’ lived experiences and foster deeper engagement with the rest of your materials and the course as a whole.


Wrapping Up

Open educational resources provide the tools you need to boost student engagement. However, finding the right resources to engage your students can be time and labor-intensive. Working with a service that will complete this sourcing for you to assemble a pack of custom digital course materials.


Skyepack’s team of professional instructional designers follows the AGILE instructional design process to create fully customized course materials that meet your needs as a professor. Contact Skyepack to learn more.


If you’re looking for more information about open educational resources and digital learning materials, check out these additional resources: